Nerve City is one man, Jason Boyer. He plays murky, lo-fried, druggy pop better than anyone else who has attempted to do so. I was introduced to NC by his incredible demo tape a few years back and I’ve anticipated every record that’s followed since. Nerve City’s various tape releases were compiled on an LP by Sweet Rot in 2010 and it proved to be one of the year’s best recs. I got in touch with Jason to release a tape a year or so ago and thought I would ask him some questions while I was hassling him.
PART I: Conducted early 2011
TB: When did you start doing Nerve City?
JB: I gave it a name around 2007, but had been recording some would-be Nerve City stuff as early as 2003-2004.
TB: Were you involved in any bands or other home recording before Nerve City?
JB: I've always had some shitty multi-tracker laying around, and have been in a handful of bands throughout the years.
TB: You are a professional tattoo guy, right? Which interest came first? Do you often have to prioritise between this and Nerve City much?
JB: They both sort of went hand-in-hand. I started getting tattooed in high school, and hanging out at a shop pretty regularly. I became good buddies with an older tattooer, and he kinda took me under his wing. He had me coming to the shop every day to clean, answer phones, draw, etc. Eventually, he opened his own place, brought me with him, and gave me a proper apprenticeship. I was also doing the band thing around this time and going to shows and whatnot. My life as a tattooer comes first. I get to be part of a tradition that most people don't even know exists or never experience. It's the only thing I know how to do, and I fucking love it. Luckily, it's a business that affords me plenty of time off and travel opportunity. So everything works together pretty well. While music is very important to me, it is not my trade. It's more of a hobby. Actually, it's way more than a hobby, but you know what I mean.
TB: I’ve heard a few comparisons made between Nerve City and the Velvet Underground. Apart from NC/VU both being psychy pop bands, I don’t really see it. Do you listen to much of their stuff/see them as an influence?
JB: Yeah, I don't really get that one. I love VU, and would definitely cite them as a big influence, but I'm not sure where that comes through in my stuff. Either way, fuck it. I'll definitely take the compliment.
TB: What other stuff do you mainly listen to?
JB: Oh boy. I'm pretty all over the place. I listen to a lot of blues. A lot of 60's garage/psych/r'n'r stuff. 70's/80's/90's punk, post punk, hardcore. Some new stuff. I don't know… Probably a lot of the same stuff you listen to. So far, today has been The Black Angels, Flamin Groovies, Pregnant, Leather, The Dicks, Joy Division, Slug Guts, Flying Burrito Bros., The Stones, The Spits, and a few others that I can't think of right now. I am listening to Lightning Hopkins play "Lonesome Dog Blues" at the moment. That should give you an idea.
TB: Do you think that NC fits in with all the "garage" bands you seem to get lumped in with? To me it’s kinda more "timeless", straight up good pop sensibilities. Do you listen to much current music?
JB: I don't really see this this thing as a "garage" band. Except maybe because I usually record in spaces that would be comparable to a garage of some sort. I'm definitely crazy for traditional pop structure and formula in terms of songwriting, which a lot of the old garage style stuff kind of adheres to. But I feel like so much stuff is called "garage" just to avoid belting out an entire sentence worth of genres and sub-genres. I don't know. Too much to keep up with. I do listen to plenty of current bands, though.
TB: I know you have an opinion on this, so what do ya think of people selling your releases on eBay for stupid amounts of money?
JB: I do have an opinion on this. I think they are fucking scumbags. If you don't like a tape or record or whatever, pass it on. Sell it back to a shop for credit, give it to a buddy… Whatever. I don't give a fuck if you live on the internet, and preorder every limited edition of every release that gets hyped on someone's blog. It's certainly not yours to make a buck off of. Nobody should pay the inflated eBay price for this stuff. You know, if you can't get a record for a reasonable price, email me and I'll dub you a copy for the shipping cost.
TB: At one stage, you had a whole bunch of releases come out in pretty quick succession. Were all of the recordings new or was it stuff you’d been sitting on for awhile?
JB: Yeah, it just sort of happened that way. You know how tight a lot of these labels are. So you make a release, and then get offered another, and another, and so on. It wasn't planned that way, but I enjoyed it. I've been really lucky to work with such killer folks. I haven't had a bad experience yet, and in most cases, come away with a new friend from these things. In those couple of years, I was writing and recording A LOT. I was always working on a tune. So luckily, I didn't have to sit on most of the stuff. Otherwise, it might have never seen the light of day.
TB: Any reason why you have slowed down on releasing stuff recently?
JB: Yeah. A few reasons. I've moved around a lot. Come and gone and whatnot. And I wanted to let the music stuff breathe a bit. I felt like I had done enough for a while, and wanted to move slower. So I have. I don't feel the same urgency to get something out immediately. I'd rather listen to a couple different versions of something or not rush a lead or a sound. At this point, I want to make killer records. And I think the space will make for a more dynamic, thought-out album. It's fun when you like a band, and that anticipation for their next endeavor kind of builds up, you know.
TB: I could be way off here, but I get a total drug-fucked vibe with Nerve City (I say that as the highest kind of compliment). Do you think drugs (prescription, illegal, whatever) have affected your music?
JB: I mean... I'm certainly not shy about it. I don't know if it affects the sound or whatever. If anything, it just takes me longer to get through stuff when I'm fucked up.
TB: You also make up one half of Michael Dukakis, what’s the other dude in the band like? What do you do in MD? Is it a different process for MD (more/less drugs)?
JB: Mike Duke is my buddy Matt and I. Matt might be the weirdest person I know. He is the Moon Baby. He's an old friend of mine from back home in Florida. He moved up to Virginia a few years ago and we split a duplex in Richmond. That house was a blast. We had the same days off, and would wake up and start shotgunning Buds and just bullshit a song or two. Just fun stuff. I do most of the music and we both write and sing. We have a similar sense of humor and love for Budweiser. I recently moved an hour away, so we don't see each other as much. But we still do Dukakiss. We actually just recorded one the other night.
TB: All of your releases so far have been on cassette and vinyl. Do you see the medium as being important at all in your sound? I couldn’t really imagine your shit on a CD, seems weird.
JB: I definitely like the noise of tape and the warmth of vinyl. I've heard the stuff on CD, too. The first demos I did were on CDRs before Joe released it as a tape. It's fine, I guess. Just brighter. I like the patience it takes to get through a record or a tape as a listener, but am by no means, a purist. I listen to anything on any medium if I like it.
TB: You move around a lot - do you think geography plays a part in how your sound develops? Has not settling down in the one place affected how frequently you do music stuff?
JB: Yeah, it's a huge factor. The rooms change so the sound changes. I have a solid core of equipment, but am constantly buying and selling gear. So the organ or guitar you heard on the last one, might not be on the next one, etc. Also, the personnel changes for live stuff. I'll play out with different people and adjust the dynamics accordingly. So it's always different for me. I like it that way. I guess you could say the same is true in my life outside of music. I like to bounce around and rearrange and start over. I'm really only rooted in my trade.
TB: Considering it’s mainly a one-man home recording project, how does NC work live? Do you play many shows?
JB: It's a totally different thing. It's a lot more straight forward. Sometimes it's two of us, sometimes four or five. We don't play very many shows, though. It's not a band that is always ready to play or always in the same town or whatever. So we'll do a couple short runs a year, just to get out, but that's pretty much it. Maybe I'll form a real lineup in the next town.
TB: What is coming up for you and Nerve City in the near future?
JB: Same shit. Moving in November. Not quite sure where yet. Some eating, drinking, smoking, and working. An Australian tape release. And I've got a ton of demos that will be formed into some sort of cohesive mass, re-recorded, and hopefully released as the next full length.
PART II: Conducted March 2013
Jason was in my town (Melbourne) for a few days a couple of months back, touring with a band (ed: Sleigh Bells) doing the festival circuit. We met up and hung out, got drunk and talked some shit. After I bailed I remembered that I’d done an interview with him over a year beforehand that had been intended for Negative Guest List, but had never been used. To bring it up to date, I asked him a few more questions about his new record.
TB: In the year since I last talked to you, what have you been up to?
JB: Well, quite a bit. I've spent the past year touring full time as a live guitarist for another band, finished the upcoming Nerve City LP, and have started a couple other different projects with people.
TB: How different is life on the road with a touring band and life spent at home? Do you put Nerve City totally on hold while in tour-mode?
JB: I love being on tour. I love being on the run. And there's so many different levels on which to tour. I've done everything from bus and hotel tours, to fly-ins, to van and trailer, to compact cars. Playing in front of 10,000 people at festivals, 1,500 in a classy theater, or to 15 in a basement. Six weeks, three-day weekends. They are all different and equally satisfying when I remember that I play guitar for a living. It's pretty surreal. It can be tiring, though. And no, I never really put NC on hold. I still record demos on tour in my free time, and then flesh them out when I get home.
TB: How was the process different in recording the new LP as opposed to the past releases? What equipment / set-up was used to do the recording?
JB: The process got a complete overhaul. We recorded it in a killer studio, as a three piece band, with incredible gear. Mostly to 1" tape and tons of killer old analog outboard gear. I wanted to move away from the disjointed bedroom sound as I felt that some of the songs were getting lost in the shitty quality of the recordings. I also didn't want that sound to be the reason why people bought the records. It became less about being fucked up in the middle of the night and achieving a mood in a song, and more about trying to make a quality, cohesive record. That said, it is still very much a Nerve City record. It's just blown out in a more deliberate way.
TB: Are the band who play on the new NC record a consistent group of guys you’ve been playing with for awhile? How did you settle on this lineup?
JB: The drummer, Jake, is our live drummer. He's been doing NC shows with me for probably three years now. Maybe longer. So we're pretty tight. And Ryan, who played bass on the record is an old friend, and probably the best guitarist/bassist I know. Our schedules don't always line up, so it's tough to get him on the road with us. But those two guys are highly efficient in a studio setting. I mean, they're one and two take players. Josh and Wes take over second guitar and bass for live stuff.
TB: The new record is the first NC stuff to have been recorded by someone else, right? Was it hard letting someone else be responsible for the sound it was going to take? Did you conflict at all with how it should come out?
JB: Yeah, this is the first record that someone else recorded. We holed up in Scott Bomar's Electrophonic Studio in Memphis for a week. Killer spot, amazing engineer. My good friend, Justin Hess assisted. I was actually relieved to have someone else behind the controls. My only concern going into it, was that we might butt heads a bit on the sound. But it was quite the opposite. Scott got the demos and was really interested in preserving the sound that NC had kind of built up over the past few releases, but just making a more intelligible recording. We had a blast.
TB: How was the process of finding someone to release the record?
JB: I saw Jeff from Sweet Rot last year at SXSW, and we talked about doing a 7" of some of the new material I had been working on. And almost exactly like the first record came together, I sent him a bunch of stuff, and we said fuck it, we got enough for another full length. I love the Sweet Rot label. Jeff has great taste and a killer aesthetic.
TB: Do you think NC’s sound has changed much since the last time you released a record?
JB: Absolutely. I'm excited to see how this one goes.
TB: Do you plan on touring when it drops?
JB: I do. Hopefully something in the summer.
TB: What are your vague future plans at the moment?
JB: Well… As always, a move on the horizon. Hopefully within the next couple of months. The new Nerve City LP will be out shortly, and another LP (not Nerve City) with Steven from Flight later in the year. More touring. And just keeping busy with any and all projects I can get my hands on.